Mental health at work: Why it matters

For so long, so many of us struggling with our mental health have tried to keep our issues well hidden. When asked why there’s unaccounted time-off on our CVs, we’ve simply put it down to ‘taking some time out to develop much needed skills’. If asked at interview if adjustments need to be made for any reason, we’ve shied away and shaken our heads to confirm that no, we don’t need help or support. And this is fine.

However, should we, in this day and age, be hiding our mental health conditions away like diseases we don’t want people to catch?

Courtesy of Mind

Blogging for Mind about mental health at work

When I was starting out in my career, I went at it full force, nothing was stopping me, I could work 24/7 and nothing affected me. Then the paranoia started; were people at work talking about me? Were they doubting my ability to do my job? Did they know I was struggling? Then the Glandular Fever happened and then came the downward mental health spiral.

At interviews for future jobs, I didn’t mention my mental state to anyone. I thought it would jeopardise my career and I already had a low opinion of myself and compared myself to everyone else. Everyone else looked shiny and professional and I was falling behind and falling apart. When I eventually had to tell someone I was struggling with depression, it was dismissed like I was making it up. I needed a doctor’s note as ‘proof’. Then I was given verbal warnings and given the choice of ‘getting better or leaving’.

This shouldn’t ever be a position that someone should find themselves in.

Since I’ve received a diagnosis and been more open about it, the shame is starting to disintegrate, although I do still worry about it and whether employers see me as weak. However, after blogging for Mind and having an amazing response, there are so many people out there being discriminated against for their mental health and IT’S NOT RIGHT.

Ultimately, it is up to you whether you tell your employer about your mental health condition but if you do decide to and they treat you badly or differently, it’s discrimination and YOU HAVE RIGHTS. Read more about these on Mind’s website here.

Here are a couple of pointers that might help to start you on your way:

  • Sit down with your Manager in a quiet and calm space
  • Take deep breaths and remember why you’re telling them
  • Speak slowly and don’t feel pressured to rush
  • Be honest and explain what’s happened and what’s going on
  • Let them know you decided to tell them because you’d value their support
  • Ask if there are any adjustments that can be made (if you need them – Have things in mind, for example, starting work later in the morning if you struggle to sleep at night or if driving at rush hour makes you edgy)
  • Thank them for listening and for being supportive

Your Manager might want to talk to HR about your chat so they can get support themselves if needed. Not everyone will know how to help you so they might need some input. All the better if it’s going to help you in the long run.

There’s an interesting article here on Psychology Today about anxiety, stress and mental health in the workplace.

In the end, sharing the state of your mental health and your condition is entirely up to you. No one else. If your workplace is still stigmatising mental health and you don’t feel comfortable disclosing it, you don’t have to. However, if you do want to share, your employer should be open to listening.

 

 

The amazing power of storytelling

This week is National Storytelling Week, a time to appreciate the power of people’s experiences and the stories they tell.

Many of us as bloggers are digital storytellers. We do it to help other people, share information and make a difference. Are these the reasons you do it?

I share my story to:

  • Show I’m proud of who I am
  • Get advice and support from people going through similar things
  • Provide reassurance that if someone is feeling alone, that they’re not
  • Feel relieved, almost a cathartic experience

For these reasons, I decided to share my story with BBC for Time to Talk Day. I spoke to the journalist, gave her the ins and outs of my mental health experience and then she asked if I would be filmed. Bearing in mind I hate the sound of my own voice, I decided to do it anyway. And also, considering how much I bang on about how sharing is important, how talking is important and how you shouldn’t be scared to tell your story, I was petrified.

The night before it went out I couldn’t sleep, my anxiety was through the roof and I felt sick. But I knew that it was the right thing to do. I think when you tell the world about things that are so personal, it is really daunting.

The interview I did with BBC is here (‘Living with a personality disorder’)

Me BBC

The result

As soon as the interview went out, I knew I had to send to my folks as they didn’t know the extent of things. They were really supportive and for the first time, we really talked about it.

Friends that I haven’t spoken to in a while got in touch, and close friends were just amazing, sharing the link and showing support. It went down better than I thought (not hard really as I thought that everyone would disown me and I’d go into a deep sulk  – Good old mental health!)

People I don’t know have been in touch to say that they feel reassured that they’re not alone in their diagnosis and some have said they’ve opened up to people they know. The last point is amazing and what I was hoping might happen.

Being a Time to Change Champion lets me tell my story to people and hopefully helps employers and their employees see that taking mental health seriously is really important. Storytelling helps social change and that’s something truly awesome and something amazing to be a part of.

 

 

Time to Talk 2018

A week today, Time to Change is holding its annual ‘Time to Talk’ Day which encourages people to speak out about their mental health.

tttd-960-x-9602For so long, having a mental health problem was seen as something you should be ashamed to talk about. You would never have dreamed of telling your family, friends or colleagues about it because they would see it as a weakness. But actually, as the stigma is being broken down, we’re seeing that actually those of us who can’t quite deal with our mental health, are warriors in our own right. It’s great that charities like Time to Change, Mind, Hafal/Gofal (in Wales) etc are encouraging conversations.

I read an interesting article on the Huffington Post about how people who have anxiety ‘perceive the world in a fundamentally different way’  As the article says, you can’t argue with science can you?

Time to Talk Day is an awesome concept encouraging everyone, everywhere and anywhere to take five minutes and ask how someone’s doing. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate but it shows that you care.

Coming to terms with my Borderline diagnosis has been an interesting journey. I was told in November last year and have been mulling it over ever since. I still find it strange to say that’s what I have and I feel almost relieved. I offered to be a case study for BBC for Time to Talk Day and chatting through my experiences all over again was still scary and did affect me. I had to ring my partner for a chat afterwards because he always cheers me up. Immediately, he asked how I was. It was that simple and it made me feel better knowing I could tell him about it.

I know that it might be tough reading for my partner, friends and family and I hope they understand. I want to be able to say what happened and help someone who might be feeling the same way or need an extra push to talk to someone. It’s sort of therapeutic and anxiety-filled all at the same time.

Telling someone something that you’re worried about is a terrifying thing. It can take months, years even, to almost break the stigma in your own mind. But, it’s worth it if it means keeping yourself and your mental health safe.

Next Thursday (1st February), make sure you use your five minutes at work, at home, or at a local community group, to ask how someone is. That question might help to save someone’s life or just make someone’s day.

Mental Health: How to start the conversation

I get told I talk a lot. I’m a prolific chatterer about everything and nothing. So, I decided to put this to good use and talk about something really important… mental health.

I became a Time to Change Champion to go out and talk to people about mental health and hopefully, help to break down the stigma. Sharing your own experiences to help others is really empowering and I’ve met some awesome people doing the same.

(Two awesome ladies I met through Time to Change celebrating my 30th with me ❤️)

I’ve been reading some epic blogs about it and think it’s really brave of these people to share. So thank you for doing that.

Did you know that just by writing a blog you could change someone’s life? Did you know that by asking how someone is can help too?

If you’re not much of a writer but want to help someone, here are some ways to start the conversation:

  1. Hi, how are you?’
  2. ‘How are you feeling?’
  3. ‘I know you’re not feeling so good right now but if you need to talk, I’m here’
  4. ‘Is everything ok? I’m here if you need me’
  5. ‘You’re not on your own, I’m here to listen’
  6. ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’

Just letting someone know that you’re there for them can really help.

When I get really low, really angry or really upset, my partner always says ‘is there anything I can do to help?’ Most of the time, there isn’t but just letting me know that he’s there, really helps. Because of my Alexithymia, sometimes j can’t even tell what’s happening with my moods. But it’s nice to know someone cares and accepts me.

So this 2018, if you haven’t already, start the mental health conversation. It only takes a ‘How are you?’ to make a difference ❤️

Daily Prompt: Conversation

Make your voice heard: Young people’s mental health services

A couple of months ago, I blogged about how important it is for there to be support for children and young people struggling with their mental health after Time to Change Wales launched the #WeCanWeWill campaign.

(I absolutely love this video from the campaign (featuring my lovely buddy) where Beth and Emily are talking about their experiences. Watch it here.

The UK Government has now put forward proposals in relation to young people’s mental health including:

  • the introduction of ‘designated mental health leads’ in schools and colleges
  • setting up mental health support teams working with schools to give young people earlier access to services
  • trialling a 4-week waiting time for NHS Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services

It’s definitely good to see the Government making an effort to help those suffering with their mental health from a younger age. And it’s so important that we do. But is it too late for some people? It’s definitely too late for the 1 in 4 who are already experiencing these issues and are in various systems trying to cope and get support.

It’s also good to see that the Government is asking for views/opinions of people when making these calls about what services to provide.

I got an email today asking me for my views on mental health services for children and young people. I thought this was pretty good from an engagement perspective but then I wondered how many children and young people were actually receiving this email?

Are you a young person struggling with your mental health or know someone that is? Help make their future that bit brighter. Respond to the consultation honestly with your ideas. If you’re a young person struggling, MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD and take part in the UK Government consultation, click here.

 

Determining the Diagnosis

If you’re struggling to see someone and get the mental health diagnosis you need, you’re not alone. With 1 in 4 people suffering with their mental health, this is not uncommon.

The problems with getting a diagnosis include:

  • GPs having limited experience of mental illness
  • Waiting lists in the UK being overwhelmed with GP referrals
  • Some of the disorders present themselves as something else so can be hard to diagnose
  • Having a negative 8-minute consultation with the GP and not wanting to bother again
  • Not getting a concrete one

Having been in limbo for the past 20+ years of my life as to what was wrong with me and who I actually am, I’ve become almost obsessed with finding out. Weirdly, the obsession is something that’s helping me with my diagnosis plight.

After I hit rock bottom in October and saw my new GP, I was referred within six weeks to see the Community Mental Health Team. I was so surprised that it took such a short amount of time but so pleased that my plea for help was being taken seriously. The last time I was referred to the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) where I used to live, they sat with clipboards, studied me and when I told them about my episode of crashing my car they said I couldn’t make excuses for bad driving. You can imagine how I was feeling about seeing the CMHT this time around. Because we’ve moved, I now come under a different health board. Thank.Goodness. There’s been more progress in two months here than there has been in 20+ years with the other one.

In the time leading up to the appointment, I couldn’t sleep. I was grumpy, panicking, feeling sick and at the same time, felt so productive and totally amazing, I couldn’t complain. On the day of the appointment, I had been in two meetings at work and pretty much sped to the appointment (running late as usual). Sitting in the waiting room, I was twitching, biting the side of my cheek and feeling the sense of overwhelming foreboding that I wasn’t going to get anywhere.

The psychiatrist, turns out, was lovely. I took all of my proof of moods with me, my sleep patterns and any notes of ‘unusual behaviour’. She looked through it all, asked me lots of questions and listened to what I was saying.

After what seemed like a lifetime, she said she could rule out a few things but said that my moods and lack of control over emotions pointed to Borderline Personality Disorder or ‘Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder’. We talked about it and looked at the Mind website for a breakdown of the diagnosis. It seemed to fit me to a T. She did suggest that I also have a test for Autism, which has been suggested a few times by my counsellor too.

I came out of the appointment feeling confused. Relieved, that we’d put our fingers on it, scared, because this was something new and I didn’t know much about it, and still a bit unsettled. The psychiatrist changed my medication from anti-depressants to mood stabilisers, something I’ve been banging on about for years.

If you’re in that stage where you’re not sure what to do about your mental health and feel like there’s more to it than ‘You’re just having a bad day’ or a bad week, make sure you tell someone.

I’d suggest the following (although I’m by no means an expert!):

  • Keep a track of your moods, emotions etc so you have proof for your GP of how you’re feeling (A diary might be a good way of doing this)
  • Make an appointment with your GP and tell them what’s going on
  • Fill in the test they give to monitor how you’re feeling
  • Have a chat with them and see if you can be referred to see a mental health specialist
  • If you’re not opposed, trial the medication they give you and if it’s not right, tell them
  • Don’t give up!

Grandma's Special HerbsThe last one is the most important. Don’t just settle for what you’ve been told. If you don’t think that’s right, tell your GP. If the medication doesn’t sit well or you experience bad side affects, tell your GP. You have to do what’s right for you and make sure it suits you and works for you.

It takes guts to do it but I believe you can do it. You deserve it. You owe it to you to be able to live the life you’re here to live.

The blues, the masks and the light at the end of the tunnel

*Warning: The video in this post may act as a trigger for anyone suffering with their mental health*

So Tuesday was World Mental Health Awareness Day, a time for everyone to look at how they talk about mental health and how as a nation we can improve it. A day for Time to Change Champions like me to be vocal about stigma and reaching out to those who might be in trouble. Instead, I had my lowest dip I’ve had in a while.

Normally, and to the outside world, I’m looking a bit like this…

PICcollahe

We’re talking no sleeping, crying, thoughts of life ending, feeling hopeless and lost and overall, guilty. I put a warning in above because when I was having my meltdown in my partner’s car (literally went to move it off the driveway), I filmed myself. Ballsy move some might say. But, I wanted to show that some people who appear to be jolly, happy-go-lucky people on the outside might need help and support on the inside.

Here goes… (Excuse the giant face to start with)

So, yes it might not make sense and yes, I was very snotty and yes, a serious amount of tissues were harmed in the making of this spur-of-the moment video, but for good reason.

I hate attention, I don’t work well with compliments and pity makes me feel funny. All I wanted to show was that those you think have everything sussed out and be coping, might not be. As a consequence of my meltdown, I did manage to see a doctor at our new surgery.

I was so scared and had already decided that they weren’t going to help me after previous bad experiences. However, my catastrophic brain was wrong. While in a high and flighty mood a few days previously, I’d made a list of things that I experience. I’d also been filling in a Mood Diary too. So I was armed.

The doctor was amazing. She sat me and my partner down (he was there for support, oh, and to provide tissues) and asked me to start from the beginning. She was so patient and kind and really listened. She said what I’d tracked was useful and that I needed to keep monitoring my sleep (or lack of) and my mood patterns. She prescribed me a totally different kind of tablet and explained what it was and how it could help for now. She also said she’d refer me to a psychiatrist. Out of my horrible ‘I don’t want to live anymore’ mood came a light.

My partner has been an absolute angel. He’s been so supportive and kind and let me cry all over his shoulder. He’s given me tissues for my snotty nose and tried to make me laugh to distract from the pain. I feel so guilty that I have this most amazing person, we have our own home and I’m still, in the depths of my brain, horrifically sad. But he makes it better. He shows me that there’s a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Sometimes, we have to drop the mask, accept the blues and keep focussing on that bright light of hope. I realised how good I was at hiding my feelings when I asked my partner if he’d noticed any change in me in the past few months. He said he had but also said ‘You hide everything so well but you have been more up and down.’ Even those closest to us have no idea. This is when it’s good to drop the act, get rid of the mask and attack it head on.

Never give up on looking after yourself or your mental health. It’s so important. If at first you don’t succeed with family, friends or doctors, kick up a stink. It’ll be worth it.

Take Pride, be proud

Happy Tuesday lovely people. If you’re a UK resident, I hope you enjoyed the long Bank Holiday weekend. I put mine to good use.

As a Time to Change Champion, part of the volunteer role is go out and share your story with others in the hope of encouraging more people to talk about their mental health. A really important and relevant topic at the moment. Because I work full-time, I tend to miss out on going out to businesses and presenting so I embrace any opportunity to help the charity open-heartedly!

This weekend, I was lucky enough to go along and support the Time to Change team at Pride Cymru. This celebration of people was so heart-warming and so amazing to see. Cardiff looks to have opened its arms to so many different people and, despite being straight, I was so proud to be part of the celebrations on the weekend. There were rainbows everywhere you looked, hundreds taking part in the parade through the city centre and families enjoying a day out.

My friend Becky and I got all kinds of involved with Dust and Dance glitter on our faces…

Becky and me

You can’t beat a cheeky bit of glitter!

We spent the day talking to lots of people about mental health, hearing their stories and admiring their bravery. One teenage girl told me that she’d come along to Pride with her friends but had that morning come out to her Mum. I couldn’t believe how amazing she was. I can’t imagine how scary it must’ve been for her. But here she was, all dressed up and celebrating with her friends. She said she’d struggled with her mental health but was feeling like a weight had been lifted by embracing who she was.

We met older people, teenagers and families who were all getting in the spirit. It was great to see families with small children, showing them that it’s OK to be yourself, no matter who that is.

TTCW Pride

Plenty of local businesses were getting involved including Coffee#1, South Wales Police and the Principality Building Society.

We missed the lovely Anya (one of the faces of Time to Change and whose blog Me, Myself and Eyes is one to follow) but were extremely happy to see the lovely Beth appear, despite her being really poorly….

Squad

All in all, this awesome event let everyone be themselves and brighter. We were out in force talking mental health while everyone else was promoting equality in a similar fashion. This was my first event and it was amazing hearing the stories, meeting the people and putting faces to a charity that campaigns for ending mental health stigma.

How do you feel about sharing your mental health story? Do you think it helps others to see what you’re going through? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!